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2 troubling examples of Google’s conflicts

Google is mightily testing the faith of its users.

In ways large and small, the Mountain View search giant is setting up conflicts of interest across its varied business lines that will prove increasingly difficult – if not sometimes impossible – to reconcile.

We saw two clear and troubling examples last week. On Wednesday, the company said it was integrating Zagat reviews into its social network and local search results, putting to use the popular business review publisher it purchased last fall. It’s the latest example of Google – once strictly a search engine designed to direct users to the best places to meet their needs – evolving into a content company in its own right.

The shift gives Google greater incentive to leverage its dominant search tool to steer consumers to its own products, not necessarily the most relevant ones. So will Yelp get a fair shake versus Zagat? Or will Hulu get equal billing with Google’s new YouTube programming?

On Thursday, we saw an even more ominous shift in behavior as the company announced plans to replace Google Product Search, a tool that allowed users to compare product prices at retailers across the Web, with a “purely commercial” service known as Google Shopping.

What that means is Google will now charge retailers to have their products listed in the service. Previously, the listings were cobbled together from free retailer feeds and other online sources.

Sameer Samat, vice president of product management for Google Shopping, said in a blog post that it’s been difficult for Google to deliver accurate, up-to-date product information without a “commercial relationship” with merchants.

“Higher-quality data – whether it’s accurate prices, the latest offers or product availability – should mean better shopping results for users,” Samat said.

But respected industry watcher Danny Sullivan, often a defender of Google’s practices, sounded an alarm about the shift. The editor in chief of the Search Engine Land blog said it was the latest example of the company defying what was once a core corporate principle: refusing to allow companies to buy search result rankings, known as paid inclusion.  Read More

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Posted on June 3, 2012, in #technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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